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Collections Preservation Center Construction

Secretary Jewell and Senator Alexander

Secretary Jewell and Senator Alexander

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials were joined by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Senator Lamar Alexander on Monday, March 3, to celebrate the contributions that public-private partnerships have made to the national park to help honor and preserve America’s cultural heritage. Secretary Jewell announced a timeline for the construction of a 13,000 square-foot Collections Preservation Center in Townsend, TN with the solicitation process beginning immediately and construction expected to begin this summer. The new facility is expected to be completed in the fall 2015. Through the completion of this new regional center, the National Park Service (NPS) will be able to properly care for over 144,000 artifacts, 220,000 archival records, and 275 linear feet of library materials documenting the history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and four other NPS areas in East Tennessee including Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, and Obed Wild and Scenic River. Consolidating the collections materials will both ensure the protection for the heirlooms entrusted to the National Park Service and also allow for a single Museum Curator to oversee all the collections. “We are delighted to be a part of this incredible opportunity that now allows us to properly care and preserve these pieces of our past enabling us to continue to tell the stories of the Smokies,” said Acting Smokies Superintendent Pedro Ramos. “This opportunity would not have been possible without the generosity of our partners, Great Smoky Mountains Association and Friends of the Smokies, and the individuals that offered their support.” Nearly half of the estimated $ 4.3 million cost of the facility has been provided by our park partners along with the donation of the 1.6 acre parcel of land provided by the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. “The Friends of the Smokies is privileged to partner with the Great Smoky Mountain Association to assist the NPS in the creation of such a lasting and meaningful resource for our area,” said President Jim Hart. The new facility centralizes irreplaceable materials in a conveniently located, secure, climate-controlled space in which they will be preserved, as well as office and lab space where they can be studied by NPS staff and visiting researchers. In addition to providing construction funds, our partner Great Smoky Mountains Association is also providing support for a librarian to help catalog and care for the items as well as assist park descendants, researchers, and visitors access materials for study. “Great Smoky Mountains Association is honored to be a part of this landmark project that pays tribute to the people who gave up their homes and communities for the creation of this national park. Of all the park projects GSMA has supported over the last 61 years, this is one of the very most important,” said Executive Director Terry Maddox. The historic artifacts include pre-historic projectile points, logging-era equipment, vintage weapons, clothing, farm implements, tools and other possessions that would have been found on the farmsteads of the Southern Appalachians in pre-park days such as everyday items including hair combs, butter churns, beds, looms, and spinning wheels, all handmade and all one-of-a-kind. The collection also includes documentary history through oral histories of Southern Appalachian speech, folklore, official documents, photographs and stories. Having these artifacts more accessible will also allow more opportunities for the NPS to share items with approved public museums for temporary display including the adjacent Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center. Park officials are honored by the dedication and perseverance of Senator Alexander and Department of Interior leaders who provided continued support leading to the construction of this facility which likewise honors the families whose legacy will be well preserved. As a part of the media event, leaders also had the unique opportunity to hear the stories of several descendants of families who gave their lands for the creation of the national park as we honor the contributions of their ancestors through this preservation effort.

Public Perception of Park Closing Could Hurt Local Economy

Steve Morse, economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Department at WCU is predicting that this fall season could be one of the best for hotels and other local businesses in the mountains due to several factors such as: favorable travel conditions and a drop in hotel and gas prices . October is traditionally the most busy tourist season for “leaf lookers” here in the Great Smoky Mountains. Dr. Morse, as well as many business owners here in the mountains do fear that not enough people know that while the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along with its trails and facilities are currently closed due to the government shut down, highway 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee still remains open.

Government Shut-Down Affects Local Parks

Many public facilities are closing their doors across America today as congress reached a stalemate about the new health act. Many areas are affected but few more so locally than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Dana Soehn of the Parks Department has told WRGC that they are currently sending word to close down visitor’s centers, campgrounds, and hiking trails to name just a few services. Campers and park goers will have 48 hours to clear out, that’s 6pm Thursday, October 3rd. WRGC would like to remind everyone that highway 441 from Gatlinburg to Cherokee will remain open, however trails, parking lots, and restroom facilities will be closed. Dana Soehn stated that of the 326 government employees, 279 are on furlough, the remaining employees consist of mainly law enforcement officers and water treatment specialists who make sure they stay in compliance with water quality regulations. Dana Sohen had the following to say on the shut down, “We have over one million visitors that come during October alone, so we know we are disappointing people who would normally be filling up our campgrounds. We have 820 campsites scattered across the park.” She also mentioned a few other people who are disappointed due to the park closure, “There are a lot of special uses around the month of October that people don’t traditionally think about, we had 53 weddings scheduled for the month of October and of course they all got the notices that we are closed. You think of our education programs, we were calling teachers today to cancel field trips.”

Dale Ditmanson Plans Retirement from Park Service

Dale Ditmanson

Dale Ditmanson

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent, Dale Ditmanson, announced plans to retire on January 3, 2014 after 36 years with the National Park Service (NPS). He has served in the Smokies as Superintendent since May of 2004 and has been recognized for his exceptional leadership as the 2009 Southeast Region’s Superintendent of the Year and the 2013 Association of Public Lands’ Agency Partner of the Year which he shared with recently retired Deputy Superintendent Kevin FitzGerald. Ditmanson is also a recipient of the Department of Interior’s Honor Award for Meritorious Service. “Dale Ditmanson exemplifies the best of the National Park Service career employees: dedicated to the mission, driven to excellence and willing to fight to protect our National Parks. I appreciate all he has done for the American people throughout his NPS career and wish him well in retirement,” said NPS Director Jon Jarvis.

Among his many accomplishments, Ditmanson provided the vision and leadership, working closely with a tremendous management team and park partners, leading to the construction of facilities that will serve the public well into the future. Ditmanson also worked tirelessly with gateway communities, partner groups, congressional staff, NPS staff, and Park neighbors to secure approval of a Memorandum of Agreement for the future of the Elkmont Historic District, accomplished a resolution leading to the North Shore Road settlement decision with Swain County, and developed the Trails Forever partnership between Friends of the Smokies and the Park. Ditmanson has also championed the protection of natural and cultural resources while serving in the Smokies working closely with Resource Management and Science Staff to support the reintroduction of Elk, pushing for improved air and water quality standards, and helping to secure needed funds for the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid suppression efforts.

More information will follow regarding a farewell celebration for Ditmanson in early January. For more information, please contact Park’s Public Information Office at 865-436-1207 or 865-436-1203.

Fatal Car Wreck in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

 

James Edward Bigmeat Jr.

James Edward Bigmeat Jr.

A fatal car accident claimed the life of a Cherokee man on Friday, August 9th in the Great Smoky Mountains Park close to Park Headquarters near Gatlinburg. According to officials with the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 44-year-old James Bigmeat Jr. of Cherokee, North Carolina was traveling north on U.S. 441, also known as Newfound Gap Road, when he ran off the roadway and collided into a tree. Also with him in the vehicle was his wife Angela Murphy, who is also from Cherokee. Angela Murphy, age 34, sustained injuries and was transported by Gatlinburg Emergency Medical Services to the University of Tennessee Medical Center according to a news release from the national park, where she was listed as being in stable condition as of Sunday morning. The cause of the collision is under investigation, but Park Rangers believe excessive speed was a contributing factor.

Fontana Lake filled to the Brim

This weekend marked the second time in 13 years, both of which have occurred this calendar year, that the sluice tube was opened to lower the level of the lake due to excessive inflow from the feeder rivers to the lake.  Between the operation of the generators and the opening of the sluice tube 128,000 cubic gallons per minutes of water were passing through the dam. The spectacle of the millions of gallons of water flooding from the sluice tubes was a major spectacle for visitors over the weekend, one twice seen this year. Fontana Dam was constructed in the 1940′s for two reasons, one was to generate electricity for the making of the first atomic bomb, the second was part of the flood control on the Tennessee River flood plain.

Storm Damage Causes Trail Closures in Cosby and Big Creek Areas

Great Smoky Mountains National Park managers report that several trails in Cosby and Big Creek are closed due to extensive damage from the wind and rain during a late afternoon storm on Thursday, June 13. Other trails in the area may be closed as the park is continuing to assess the damage. Gabes Mountain Trail and Snake Den Ridge Trail in Cosby, and Baxter Creek Trail and Big Creek in Big Creek have been closed due to scores of downed trees. The trails are impassable by foot or horse. In addition to trail closures, the Park has also closed “B” Loop of Cosby Campground due to damage. There is no estimate for reopening the trails or the campground at this time. “We are in the process of assessing the condition of all of the trails within the storm affected area,” said acting Chief Ranger Steve Kloster. “Hikers and equestrians may want to confirm trail openings by contacting the Park’s Backcountry Office or by visiting our website before planning routes through this section of the Park.” The storm which hit hardest on the Northeastern most section of the park was the tail end of a storm system which hit the Midwest through much of Thursday. Air monitoring stations at Clingmans Dome and Look Rock recorded over sixty mile per hour winds during the time of the storm. For the most up to date closure information, visit the Park’s website at www.nps.gov/grsm or call our Backcountry Office at 865-436-1297.

National Park Enjoys Record High Visitation

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has recently released its visitation records for the month of April. For the first one third of the year, between January and April of 2013 the park saw 1,620,000 visitors. The number, while impressive, is actually down 360,000 visitors from the same time last year. That is 11.6% below the five year average of the January to April time period. Park officials attribute the drop in visitors to the extended closure of Newfound Gap Road on U.S route 441. The road was reopened to the public a month ahead of schedule on April 15, as previously reported by WRGC. The closing of Newfound Gap Road hurt Park attendance during the first third of the year. However, after the Newfound Gap Road reopening the park has enjoyed record high visitor attendance. In one day alone the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Sugarlands Visitors center has seen 6,000 visitors, setting a new twenty year record. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson is quoted as saying, “We are once again the most visited national park in the country, almost nine and a half million last year which is the highest number in over a decade”. With Newfound Gap Road reopened park officials are already seeing a return to those historic visitation numbers. Early signs are promising that the millions of park tourists and the dollars that they bring are returning to our area.